It was a difficult time to have to come into the game, but then again, Dustin McGowan is used to dealing with adversity.
The Toronto Blue Jays reliever was rushed into the game in the bottom of the eighth inning during Friday’s game here against the Baltimore Orioles after Brett Cecil injured his groin and had to leave. The Blue Jays were leading 4-0 but the Orioles were threating, with just one out and two runners on board and cleanup hitter Chris Davis at the plate. The count was 1-2.
Everybody in the ballyard was expecting McGowan to rear back and bring the heat but the 32-year-old crossed everybody up.
The lanky righthander came with a wicked changeup up that totally flummoxed Davis, who barely got a piece of the ball.
But Toronto catcher Dioner Navarro was able to hang on to the foul tip for a one-pitch strikeout for McGowan.
“I figured he’d be geared for the fastball,” McGowan said on Saturday as the Blue Jays prepared for the third game of their four-game set here against their American League East rival.
McGowan then mopped up again in the ninth to help Toronto preserve it’s 4-0 victory, snapping a three-game Blue Jays losing skid while earning the pitcher his first big league save in the process.
When McGowan got back to the dugout he was presented with the fly ball that Jose Bautista caught in right field off the bat of Delmon Young for the third and final out of the game.
For McGowan it marked another milestone in what has been a remarkable comeback story.
Returning to the Blue Jays roster last year after missing significant chunks of time with a variety of health issues, including three separate shoulder surgeries, McGowan has finally found peace in the bullpen.
His desire was always to be a starter and the Blue Jays gave him that opportunity coming out of spring training this year as a member of the five-man rotation.
But after getting slapped around by the Cleveland Indians for four runs off nine hits through four innings of work back on May 14, the decision was made to return McGowan to the bullpen.
And nobody is regretting the decision.
Working primarily in middle relief situations, McGowan has been almost perfect, having allowed just six hits and one run in 11 appearances.
Opponents have struggled to hit just .140 off McGowan, who has recorded eight strikeouts over the 13.1 innings he has pitched.
And, remarkably for an athlete who has experienced the kind of arm issues that he has, McGowan can still deliver a fastball that carries a 95-96 mile-an-hour kick on a regular basis.
“It feels good,” McGowan said of his bullpen role. “Once I went back into the bullpen I knew that’s where I’m probably going to pitch for the rest of my career. It’s something you have to embrace. It’s what I’m going to do. Not ever worry about starting again, just focus on what we’re doing in the bullpen.
“It’s made it a lot easier on me.”
“He’s just a good old country boy, from Georgia,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said of McGowan. “He just goes out there and does his job. He’s a workman. But it is pretty amazing all he’s been through to still be throwing as good as he is.”
On the Cecil injury front, Gibbons said the lefty feels a lot better on Saturday than he did the night before when a sore groin knocked him out of the game.
For the time being, the Blue Jays will wait a couple of days to see if Cecil gets better and can avoid going on the 15-day disabled list.
But the club won’t wait too long to make that move as at the moment they only have one lefthanded reliever remaining in the bullpen in Aaron Loup.
The Blue Jays did activate righthanded reliever Sergio Santos to the roster on Saturday, who has missed time with an elbow injury.
To make room for Santos the Blue Jays sent outfielder Darin Mastroianni back to Triple-A.